Are You Content?

“I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)

Not long ago a read a story about a man who became envious of his friends because they had larger and more luxurious homes. So he listed his house with a real estate firm, planning to sell it and to purchase a more impressive home. Shortly afterward, as he was reading the classified section of the newspaper, he saw an ad for a house that seemed just right. He promptly called the realtor and said, “A house described in today’s paper is exactly what I’m looking for. I would like to see it as soon as possible!” The agent asked him several questions and then replied, “But sir, that’s your house that you recently had me list. That’s your house you’re describing.”

So often we are like this man – discontent regardless of our circumstance. 

Whether we are rich or poor, successful or unsuccessful, old or young, we always seem to want more – never content with our lot in life. We often allow our circumstances to dictate our contentment. Our joy depends so heavily on bank accounts, good health, and fulfilling relationships. One day, we could be on top of the world and then something negative happens the next day and we are in the valley of discontentment.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be content regardless of your circumstances? That is how life was for Paul. He had learned to be content in all situations of life. Look at how he describes himself here in this passage. He writes, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”

In all circumstances of life, Paul had learned to be content. Even in the midst of persecution, imprisonment, and suffering Paul was content. What was his secret? Paul tells us in the next verse. He writes, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The reason Paul could be content in all situations of life was because he had Christ. He knew that in good times or bad times, in times of plenty or in times of want, no matter what, he had Christ and that was enough.

Paul’s contentment was not found in his circumstances, bank account, or status in world; his contentment was found in the God who gave His life so that he could live. Paul knew that one day He would spend eternity with God in heaven and that is where he found contentment. 

This is a good reminder for us. 

Regardless of our circumstances in life, if we have Christ we have it all, and in Him we can find contentment.

What That Verse Really Means – Philippians 4:13

Growing up, one of the only verses I had memorized was Philippians 4:13, which states, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” What boy doesn’t want to feel like he can do “all things”? Its a big world out there and there are lots of things which can intimidate us. Knowing that Christ helps us do anything we set out to do makes us feel good. Its almost like Jesus is our life cheerleader, standing on the sidelines shouting, “Way to go! You can do it! You got this!”

What It Doesn’t Mean

One famous UFC wrestler ran out to the ring under Philippians 4:13, on his way to beat someone to a bloody pulp. Defensive linemen in football write Phil. 4:13 in white letters under their eyes to motivate them to tackle the other team’s quarterback. But the Apostle Paul never intended his words in Philippians 4:13 to motivate us in these ways. Paul’s words weren’t meant as a pep talk for those going out into the world to achieve great feats. Rather, his words were meant to motivate us in a much deeper and long-lasting way.

What It Does Mean

Lets take a look at Philippians 4:11b-13, which read, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Here was the apostle Paul sitting in chains in a prison cell for preaching the gospel of Christ, probably chained to a guard on his left and right. He was no ivory tower theologian who enjoyed writing treatises from the comfort of his own home. He was a battle-worn soldier of Christ who had endured much persecution and hardship for the sake of the Gospel. We only need to read of Paul’s persecutions and sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11 to find out that the apostle Paul had suffered much for Christ. Yet in spite of all this, he had come to discover “the secret” of true contentment in any and every circumstance in life. He had gone without food, without sleep, and in fear of death often; and now here he sits in prison writing of his contentment. So when he comes to verse 13 and says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”, what he meant was: “I can endure any hardships necessary as I live for Christ, because Christ lives in me.”

In his book Spiritual Depression, Martyn Lloyd-Jones has pointed out, “The Christian is not just a moral man; the life of God has entered into him, there is an energy, a power, a life in him and it is that that makes him peculiarly and specifically Christian, and that is exactly what Paul is telling us here…the Christian life is not a life that I live myself and by my own power; neither is it a life in which I am obliterated and Christ does all. No, ‘I can do all through Christ.'”

What it means for us

Instead of giving us an ego boost or a peptalk to go on to do great things in our own power and for our own name, Philippians 4:13 assures us that Christ will empower us for every trial we must face.

This means the worst of life circumstances are not too much for the child of God because Christ gives them strength. Just imagine the worst thing that could possibly happen in your life: the death of a child, the loss of a spouse, a diagnosis of cancer, financial bankruptcy, a debilitating illness; If you are in Christ and Christ is in you, He will give you the strength to endure all of these.

I often hear people say, “God will never put on you more than you can handle”, but that just is not true. I agree with another friend who has said: God will put on you more than you can handle, but not more than He can handle through you. In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, Paul describes one particular instance of this in his own life. He and his team were, “so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”

So the next time you face a trial that seems too much for you to handle, remember Philippians 4:13 and know that Christ will give you the strength to get through this so long as you rely on Him and not yourself. If you seek contentment in your personal comforts, you are doomed to a life of disappointment and discontentment. But if you seek your contentment in Christ alone, nothing will be able to truly disappoint you and no trial will destroy your joy in Christ. You can endure it all, so long as you remember that the strength is found not in you, but in your union with Christ.

Persevering Because of Preservation

Two days ago I asked you some hard questions about whether or not you’ll still be a Christian in the future. Today I want to give you confidence that God will keep you.

God Begins and Completes the Work in Philippi

1:6 continues, ‘And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.’ Here we see the foundation of Paul’s confidence in this church. It’s not them who began this great gospel work, it is God who did so. And it’s not them who will complete this great gospel work, it is God who will do so. God began a work of conversion in the hearts of many Philippians, and this work shows itself in fruit. Fruit that looks like working together, partnering together, joining together for the spread and advance the gospel. Paul saw this, rejoiced in it, happily prayed about it, and then concluded that just as God had begun this work, so too He’ll complete it.

Front and center here we the sovereignty of God in salvation as well as the sovereign faithfulness of God to keep them until the end.

Even though the Philippian church suffered so much Paul encourages them with the sovereign faithfulness of God to keep and preserve them in 1:6. He does this later in 1:27-29 saying, ‘Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…stand firm in one spirit with one mind…don’t be frightened in anything by your opponents…for it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but suffer for His sake.’ So God has granted two things to the Philippian church. God has granted them the gift of believing in Him and granted them the gift of suffering for Him. In these things the Philippian church is reminded that the only reason they will persevere in faith to the end is because God has promised to faithfully preserve them to the end.

What does this mean for us?

God Begins and Completes the Work in Us

Phil. 1:6 is not just a promise for the Philippian church, it’s a promise to the universal Church throughout all time. The same way God encouraged and taught the Philippians of His sovereign faithfulness to keep and preserve them to the end is the same way God encourages you and I when we face the questions like we posed two days ago: how do we know we’ll remain Christians throughout our lives? How will we endure? What is our confidence that we’ll last to the end? Phil. 1:6, ‘And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.’

We will persevere in faith because God has promised to preserve us.

Jesus in John 10:28-29 said, ‘I give My sheep eternal life, and they will never perish, no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.’ Paul in Romans 8:30 said, ‘And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.’ Everyone whom God has predestined, called, and justified God will glorify. When God begins a work, He always finishes it. In Eph. 1:13-14 Paul says, ‘In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory.’ The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a promise of and evidence for God’s great keeping power. Jude addressed his small letter in Jude v1 to ‘those who are called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ.’ And at the end of Jude in v24 we read, ‘Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy…’

Be of good cheer Church, God promises to keep us, and make us blameless and happy before the presence of His glory. God began this great work, God grows this great work, and one day God will finish this great work.

Yes, we cannot lose our salvation, but people have a habit of twisting these things to their own evil ends. The doctrine of the preservation of the saints is twisted in this manner, ‘I’ve got my ticket, I know that the ‘man upstairs’ and me are good…once saved always saved right?’ It is true that once we’re saved/converted, we’ll always be saved/converted, but if you use that as a license to do whatever you want to do, or just sit back and passively and do nothing, you’re not saved/converted. Those who are truly saved, work out their salvation with fear and trembling because God is act work within them to act according to His own good pleasure.

But another question comes up. What do we do about those who claim to have fallen away from the faith? If we can’t lose our salvation what happened to them? 1 John 2:19 makes it pretty clear saying, ‘They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.’ On this passage R.C. Sproul comments, ‘If you have saving faith you’ll never lose it, if you lose it you never had it.’

So Church, rest well.

The doctrine of the preservation of the saints is God’s sovereign faithful promise to keep us through all the affliction and suffering of life, so that we will one day gain an inheritance of pleasures at God’s right hand forevermore. Rest well, the doctrine of the preservation of the saints reminds us on our worst days and even on our best days God has a firmer grip on us than we will ever have on Him. Rest well, this doctrine of the preservation of the saints points us to the gospel truth – “Before conversion we we’re in a battle we couldn’t win (after conversion, because of the preserving work of God) we’re now in a battle we can’t lose” (Tim Keller).

Will You Still Be a Christian Tomorrow?

How do you know that you’ll wake up a Christian tomorrow morning?

Is that a daunting question to think about? Try these: how do you know that you’ll still love God a few months or even a few years from now? How do you know that you’ll make it glory? This is a pressing question. We’ve all known people who’ve made a profession of faith and have even seemed to grow strong in faith only to later turn their back on such things. How do we know we won’t end up like that? Can we know we’ll make it? Or do we just hope that everything will be ok? Jesus said in Matthew 24:13, ‘Those who endure to the end will be saved.’ Church, we have a need to endure to the end if we’re going to be finally saved, so let’s ask the question today – how are we going to endure? Your answer to this question reveals not only your hope for eternal life, it reveals your understanding of the gospel, it reveals what you’re placing your hope in to finally save you.

To tackle these questions let’s spend some time on Philippians 1:6 which says, ‘And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.’

Paul’s Context

In order to understand the text of Phil 1:6 we must see it in it’s context, which is Phil. 1:3-11 where Paul prays for the Philippian church. In the beginning of this section Paul says this in v3-5, ‘I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.’

Here Paul, as He often does, begins with an opening prayer for the particular church in view. What we ought to notice is that it is in these prayers that we find the major themes of each letter. For the letter to the Philippians the main theme of Paul’s opening prayer is joy. Joy in thankfulness, joy in their partnership in the gospel, and joy in God’s continued work in them. Every time Paul remembers the Philippians in prayer, he thanks God for them joyously. Why is he so joyous and glad when he prays for them? v5 tells us, ‘…of because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.’ The foundation of Paul’s joy in the Philippians is that from the first day he came to them they’ve partnered with him in the gospel work. This word ‘partnership’ in Greek is the word ‘koinonia’ which is usually translated as ‘fellowship.’ This lets us know that Paul and the Philippians were working together, partnering together, and were joined together for, or had fellowship in, the one aim of spreading and advancing the gospel. This same word in v7 is used and translated as ‘partakers’ meaning the Philippians joined or shared in this great work of preaching, defending, and suffering for the gospel.

This shows us how intimately connected Paul and the Philippians were in his day. It also shows us how we’re do life with one another in the local church in our day. We are individuals true, but as we come together to worship and study and pray throughout the week we slowly over time become more than mere isolated individuals, we grow in ‘koinonia.’ We grow in our fellowship, we grow in our partnership in the gospel and for the gospel. So just as Paul and the Philippians worked together, partnered together, joined together for, and had fellowship in the one aim of spreading and advancing the gospel, there should be nothing different about how we do life within our congregations. This means the work of ministry is not just about what your elders do for you. It’s more about what we together. Following Christ is a community endeavor. In this context Paul writes Phil. 1:6.

So we’ve seen Paul’s context, let’s now see…

Paul’s Confidence

In Phil. 1:6 Paul begins with these words, ‘And I am sure of this…’

Paul is confident, and shows a deep conviction here. He’s sure of something about this church. He’s not guessing. He doesn’t say, ‘I may be right about this…’ or ‘I have a hunch about this church…’ No, he says, ‘And I am sure of this…’ Paul’s firm conviction about God’s work in the Philippians is deep and grounded, perhaps this is why he has such joy in praying for them. He knows they’re spiritually healthy, walking wisely, and loving each other as they ought to.

Their conduct with the gospel gives Paul a firm conviction that they’re truly in the gospel.

Because he has a firm conviction that they’re truly in the gospel, he is confident of one thing – that God is working in them. This is why Paul can confidently say later in 2:12, ‘Therefore my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, so now, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.’ Paul is very confident in this church, even when he’s not with them he knows they’re living as they ought to.

His certainty he feels for them is great, but it doesn’t come from them, it comes from God. How so? Stay tuned later this week…

W: The Place of Works in our Sanctification

What is the place of “works” in our pursuit of holiness? Before I answer let me tell why I think this is a very important question to ask. Works are a necessary part of our own holiness, but our holiness is not based on our own works, but the works of Jesus (incarnation, life, death, resurrection). As a Christian, you are just as holy when you do your daily devotion and prayer time as you are when you don’t do those things; and though we may feel more holy when we do our “Christian duties” we must not base our holy standing before God on these duties. So where do our own works come into play? Obviously we cannot become holy people by sitting around navel gazing, we must do something! But what exactly is the place of our own works in our sanctification? Philippians 2:12-13 shows us whats up.

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

You see it? There are two things present here that must see in proper order. First, notice that there is a clear call to holiness in that we’re commanded to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” Second, notice that God clearly states that He is “at work both to will and work” in us and through us what is pleasing His sight. Now the real question comes: which one of these comes first? Does our working out our own salvation happen first, or does God’s working in us happen first? If our works happen first, and God’s as a consequence of them, then that would mean God cannot “will and work in us according to his own pleasure” unless we move through “working out our salvation with fear and trembling” first. This is wrong, dishonoring to God, and I hope you see why – in this option, God is in a box and cannot do anything until we move first. This is a man-centered view of God. Think about the other way around. God decides in His own heart to “will and work in us according to His own pleasure” and because of this we have the ability to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” This is correct and very God-honoring, because we, not God, are in the box. In this option we do not do anything at all until God moves first. This is a God-centered view of God.

Do you see how this places our own works of holiness as the result of our salvation rather than the ground of it? Pursuing holiness will only happen by “works” done by us in fear and trembling, but those works only happen because God has first worked in us.

APPLICATION question: Have you reversed this idea by thinking the ground of your salvation was your own works of holiness? Hmmm…I know I have. Have you?